Back at Sundance – Day #6
The big finale.
Actually not. Because today is the day that I decided maybe not to get up early or even try to go out that much. Rather, I would do what so many people at Sundance do either because they have the same tethered to the homestead issues, they’re pressed for time, they hate people, or they love the condo they’re staying at (and I mean REALLY love the condo): They watch their movies on DVD.
That’s right. All of Park City is one big ‘ol indie multiplex at our disposal and we’re still watching the same movies that are here on DVD. And here’s the funny thing about it – I’m watching the first movie and I swear I’m no more than 30 minutes into this thing and I want to pause it to go get a Pop Tart. If I was in the theater, no such dilemma. But because I know I can, I want that damn Pop Tart and I don’t want to wait.
And the movie was great. It was Doug Pray’s documentary, ART & COPY. We had Doug’s film, BIG RIG at AFI FEST so I was very interested in seeing this one. The film looks at the advertising industry, the men and women who made it the all-encompassing force that it is in all of lives, and…well, the all-encompassing force that IT IS in all of our lives. So much is there: the innovation (remarkable at the time) in the early 60s of putting the art directors in the same room as the copywriters, the alarming stats (In 1967 a person had contact with 1500 advertising messages a day, today it’s 5000), the campaigns (Volkswagon – “Think small,” American Tourister – “Gorilla vs. luggage,” Mac – “The Super Bowl 1984 commercial,” Reagan’s “Morning in America” spot, and the “Got Milk?” campaign among them).
Along the way, some of the advertising legends (George Lois, Hal Riney, etc.) speak for themselves doling out nuggets such as “Great advertising makes your food taste better, your car drive better…,” “Sometimes we have higher aspirations for our clients than they have for themselves,” and finally, the truth you already knew about advertising – just not to this extent: “It’s like air and water. It’s around you. It’s going to happen to you.” This could have been a dry talking head-0-rama, but Pray is money in the bank again.
Next up were two shorts: On the great side there was Dominic Bisignano’s animated food for the funny bone, FROM BURGER IT CAME. In it, we follow the first person recounting of a young man who believes he has contracted AIDS by eating a hamburger someone has left behind. There are few things better than crazy logic teaming up with crazy animation.
Then, the not so good: Kai Orion’s COPPER ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK. This one fell into the “huh?” category. Basically, some guy is living in a cabin in the snowy woods dealing (I guess) with unrequited feelings with a girl (who lives there too?) by chopping a lot of wood and drinking a lot of beer. I think? Maybe? Let’s face it I couldn’t figure out what the point of any of it was. And even though there is a senseless killing at one point involving a black bear (which should’ve tickled me to no end), it was merciful when the pointlessness (i.e., the movie itself) ceased.
Fortunately, Michael Shannon arrived on the scene in a modern day noir chestnut, THE MISSING PERSON. Written and directed by Noah Buschel, the film is a stylish piece of work about a private eye who is paid to follow a man from Chicago to L.A., then (as is always the case), he gets there, learns more about the guy and things change, as he’s hired to bring the same guy back to New York. The movie easily takes a rightful position among the better gumshoe films and the main reason is its gumshoe. Shannon can make breathing look fascinating and/or curious, and he’s joined by a cast that would get any director excited – Frank Wood, Amy Ryan, Yul Vasquez among them. A cop on a segway makes a Soupy Sales reference, lines like “You’re not one of those gals that uses sex as a weapon, are ya’?” are casually delivered, and sepia tones give way to cool blues and then back again. Nice. And better yet, a nice film for me to finish with.
And with that, my official Sundance viewing is complete. I’m debating about the need to go to the final awards party since tomorrow I start driving to Dallas for the hard core AFI DALLAS prep. I’ve done the drive from L.A. to Dallas and back a couple of times but this will be a new twist going from Utah to Dallas. So, maybe not so much with the “Hi, I’m John Wildman. Damn glad to meet you.” routine tonight. That would be my second ANIMAL HOUSE reference in a couple days.
I’m sure it’s the turtlenecks…
Back at Sundance – Day #5
Today turned out to be music day. Not by design, really, but by this point you almost change your movie watching plans hour by hour depending on what films have tickets you can still get your hands on, how much time you’ve got to make it to the theater, and how vociferously the woman sitting behind you on the tram just trashed what you were planning to see.
So, first up – Jeff Lipsky’s ONCE MORE WITH FEELING. I wasn’t originally planning on seeing this. But then I ran into Jeff and his producer Paul Jarrett at a party. Here’s the deal: a few years back, I was part of the PR team that repped Jeff’s great (and despite our efforts, I still feel under sung) relationship drama, FLANNEL PAJAMAS. So, I was hoping I’d see him while we were here at Sundance, but I also had missed the press screening of ONCE MORE WITH FEELING so I figured that wasn’t in the cards. Well, the weird thing about directors and producers is that a lot of the time they have tickets to their own movies.
The film stars Chazz Palminteri as a successful psychiatrist who rediscovers a lifelong dream of a singing career thanks to the siren song of karaoke. Meanwhile his eldest daughter, played by Drea de Matteo is a mother of two being driven to distraction thanks to neurotic thoughts about getting older and not feeling attractive. Oh, and naturally they’re part of a huge Italian family full of quirky characters and precocious personalities. Because they’re Italian and those are the rules. Don’t even pretend like you didn’t know that. And then, Palminteri’s character confuses his singing dream for something else with his karaoke muse (played by Linda Fiorentino). Again, I think it’s more than natural to cross the line with your karaoke muse. I mean, you’re trying to follow the lyrics on that little blue screen, there’s pressure to say, bring sexy back and it happens. And there are misunderstandings and hurt feelings and we all learn a little something about…karaoke.
To Lipsky’s credit, his characters are grown ups and likeable and while a lot of the elements in the film are by the numbers, those are issues I had with the script he was given. I think it will eventually be one of those films that will play forever on cable. You know, the kind that you flip by constantly – always at the same point in the movie.
The other beautiful thing about the screening is that it provided that perfect cliché Sundance moment during the Q&A where some old person complains about every other film at the festival ending in misery or bloodshed and then praises the filmmakers for making the only film they’ve seen that left them with a smile on their face.
Of course, it’s funny to me because I giggled out loud during GRACE and WHITE LIGHTNIN’. A lot.
Anyway, back to the music. And next up was Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, IT MIGHT GET LOUD. This film is like shooting rock n’ roll fans in a barrel. Basically, three generations of guitar heroes (Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White) are brought together to talk music, play music and maybe learn a little something about karaoke. I’m kidding – no karaoke. There is a lot of great stuff to be had: Cool moments like the Edge doing yoga while checking his blackberry, Jack White describing how he took the bed out of his bedroom growing up so he could fit in more music equipment, and Jimmy Page describing how far ahead Led Zepplin was as he recounts their legendary fourth album (which included “Black Dog,” “When the Levee Breaks,” and “Stairway to Heaven”) garnering a one paragraph review because no one knew what to do with it when it first came out.
The film excels in illustrating the mutual love affair all three have had with music and the electric guitar in particular as each contemplates and discusses how fate and their various musical influences led them to their respective successes. My favorite quote coming from the Edge when he says, “If we believed what we were about was much more important than how well we played.” However, I can only give a mild endorsement because the entire thing was so manufactured that at times I found myself wondering how necessary the film itself was.
I finished the day with a screening of JOHNNY MAD DOG. Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s fictional look at a platoon of child soldiers fighting a civil war in a fictional African nation is intense, visceral and unrelenting. AFI DALLAS Head of Programming James Faust loved the movie and wanted a second opinion, so it won my personal last minute Sundance movie lottery. I haven’t talked to him yet, but he’s not going to be happy. Three words will describe perfectly what I feel is wrong with this film: CITY OF GOD. Fernando Meirelles’ film is one of my favorites and this one shares many of its themes, yet is very pale in comparison. Add to that mix the recent award winner from AFI FEST, Kief Davidson’s documentary KASSIM THE DREAM, and it’s also screwed because that film delivers the real thing and thanks to that film’s protagonist, we like and care about the real person who lived through those atrocities and made it out. Even with his hands bloodied, we gain some respect for what it must have took to survive and then make it out. JOHNNY MAD DOG just doesn’t have the stuff that either of those films had respectively.
Worse yet – no karaoke.
Back at Sundance – Day #4
This was the day I was looking forward to since I opened up the Sundance film guide and started mapping out what I was going to see.
Today was Scary Sundance Day!
First up was a short film titled, RITE. Alice Conway gives us a disconcerting front row seat for a little girl’s preparation for a very important ceremony. The beginning is very similar to a great film we had at AFI FEST a couple years back, Nicole Barnette’s FOURTEEN. In that film, the little girl was being prepped for a marriage to a creepy old Mormon guy. This one goes another direction. Effectively. I won’t give it away, but it takes the notion of the rites of adulthood to a proper or improper (depending on how you look at it) extreme.
Then it was time for GRACE. Directed by Paul Solet and starring Jordan Ladd, it’s your basic story where a pregnant woman’s baby dies prior to birth, beset by grief she carries the dead infant to term and then wills it to life after it’s born. And then there are uhm…complications… One of the things we learned during the Q&A after the film was that when he was a kid, Paul’s camp counselor was Eli (HOSTEL) Roth. It explains a lot.
Anyway, here’s some things you learn: You can put up all the fly paper and protective netting in the world, but you’re never going to convince flies they should stay away from your kinda dead baby. To ensure that things can get as worse as they possibly can, it helps if mom steadily becomes more and more psychotically focused on keeping said baby alive. Finally, lesbians carrying an unrequited torch can’t be trusted to make the right decisions to keep the horror from happening. I loved this film. Loved it. It takes you down a very, very dark path – methodically and thoroughly, rich with theme and detail. I will finish with this thought: If a rotting but living baby has a bloodlust, is it really necessary to define it as “vampire” or “zombie”? I mean, why must we always get hung up on labels? I think I can state what’s important with this quote from the film: “She’s special, she needs special food.”
Next on the scary hit parade was Jason Eisner’s short film, TREEVENGE. Well, fun scary, I guess. Let me set the scene for you: A pristine field of evergreen trees faces an onslaught of men wielding axes and chain saws. It’s a horrible scene of torture and slaughter and the trees don’t understand. (We know this, because their horrified peeps and squeaks are translated via subtitles.) Then, they’re taken to Christmas tree lots and separated from their friends and family and then put in houses and forced to have decorations put on their branches by more horrible people. Eventually, of course, they exact their,…wait for it…TREEVENGE. In every violent and gory way imaginable. It’s great.
And the evening’s closer was Tommy Wirkola’s DEAD SNOW. Let me say this first off: No matter what country you’re in and regardless of what language the people speak, there will always be young people willing to go to some reasonably isolated place ignoring any logical reason they should do otherwise, for the express purpose of being killing fodder. Second, those young people – even in Norway, in this case – will get a visit by a scary old guy kindly informing them that they’re all gonna die. It’s a grand tradition held since that old coot on the bicycle in the original FRIDAY THE 13TH. And it continues here. And then, it’s time for the zombie Nazis to join the party. I don’t think it’s necessary to spell out what exactly happens, but here are two more truths to leave you with: First, the only thing that pisses a zombie Nazi off more than young people stealing their treasure is young people having sex after stealing their treasure. Second, inevitably while in a killing frenzy against whatever mob of bad things that are threatening you it’s important to also kill your friend or girlfriend because they picked the wrong moment to arrive on the scene just out of your peripheral vision.
I mean, let’s face it – that’s really their bad. Right?
Back at Sundance – Day #3
So I’m getting ready to go out and face the Sundance today and at a certain point I look in the mirror and realize that my turtleneck and sweater layering strategy combined with a new haircut had made me look like ‘Greg Marmalard’ or ‘Niedermeyer’ from ANIMAL HOUSE. I started accosting myself in the mirror, “Where’s your pledge pin!”
Moving on from that, I had a lot of needless internal debate on which film was going to be first on the list for today. The winner was 211: ANNA. The loser was me. And AFI DALLAS programmer Sarah Harris – who also went to the screening. The documentary looks at the assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya who had been a strident voice of journalistic dissent against the Russian government’s war and actions of cruelty in Chechnya. A worthy subject to be sure. And potentially riveting along with being informative. Unfortunately, in execution the only thing it truly succeeds in is making you very sleepy tired.
A film we’re trying hard to give a one-way ticket from Sundance to AFI DALLAS is HUMPDAY. And that was a very happy movie number two for me today. The premise is a one line pitch winner: Two former college buddies decide for various reasons of heterosexual one-upmanship to make a gay porn art film with each other. It’s the kind of idea that gets someone a big check to write a script and then comes out of the other side of studio development morphed into a lame toothless comedy (and I’m being generous using that last word) by the numbers starring…oh, let’s say for arguments sake… hmmm…Adam Sandler and Kevin James. Fortunately, this one had Lynn Shelton at the helm and Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard at her service. It’s funny, it feels real, it hits all of the necessary notes and clears all of the hurdles you hope for, all the while genuinely keeping you wondering if we’re going to get the promised “climax”. And whether or not we want to see it in the first place as well. I think one of the age-old clichéd ideas of what a Sundance movie is goes something like this: Two or more people sit in a room talking about their feelings. And the camera never moves. And the truth is, a lot of HUMPDAY is exactly that – only here, those people are talking about the idea of two straight guys having to have sex with one another – and they’re all freaking out about it. Great stuff.
The third film on the day’s schedule was WHITE LIGHTNIN’. The animated short film I LIVE IN THE WOODS (directed by Max Winston) started things off appropriately enough with its candy coated ultra-violence courtesy of a mad hillbilly muppet guy who goes on an unbridled homicidal and graphic rampage. Delightful. Well, to me. Maybe not so much for the two horrified old ladies sitting behind me.
But back to WHITE LIGHTNIN’. Inspired by the life of Jesco White, a tap dancing ex-con hillbilly whose life’s exploits were fueled by his thoughts of gaining revenge on the men that killed his father, the film may be the most vivid portrait of crazy that I’ve seen in recent memory. Jesco says at one point, “My life’s been a party and a joke and a tragedy.” And filmed in extra crispy black and white, director Dominic Murphy shows us all of that and more. He is clearly a man with a plan to push our visceral buttons and loiter in the head of Jesco’s bat-shit crazy. There are certain actors that are “blessed” with that wild-eyed thing that keeps them off of planes and several feet away from children, and Edward Hogg’s got it. And bonus points go to Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of the love of his life. Now – let me be clear – I’m not recommending this one for everyone. I don’t think you can acquire this taste. You’ve either got it or you don’t. And the old ladies sitting behind me would back me up on that thought. In fact, their constant carping about the black and white flourishes of gore and crazy reminded me to specify that.
I don’t think they’re sleeping too well tonight.
But I am.
Back at Sundance – Day #2
Just as the first day was full of hope and indie film promise, day two delivered a body slam of reality to temper the giddiness care of two movies (actually two and a half because there’s a short in there too) that – as Leonard Maltin used to softball, “I didn’t like too much.” This, of course, followed the inauguration and more hope and promise on a even larger scale than Sundance could dream up. Take your time with that statement – I know it’s hard to hear if you live in L.A.
Anyway, first up to bat was THE INFORMERS, another ode to the excesses of the 80s courtesy of the man who may be the last living historian of this particular period and place who still cares – Bret Easton Ellis. Directed by Gregor Jordan, it’s all ray bans and skinny ties and young pretty blonde people screwing each other in every combination imaginable while taking every drug they can manage to get into their system. Meanwhile, people like Kim Basinger, Billy Bob Thornton, Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder, Chris Isaak and Rhys Davies are in this other movie which doesn’t involve all the jaded youngsters and their three ways and blow. You wonder, did they see the rest of the script? Or care? Jordan packages all of it as well as he could – I guess – but, wow. My favorite character was a Brian Ferry meets Morrissey hybrid named ‘Bryan Metro’ and played by Mel Raido as if he was trying to pull off an unfunny Zoolander character. I mean, not even “Blue Steel” could save that bit of work. My favorite quote came from a wannabe actor slash concierge (played by the late Brad Renfro) who says, “It’s hard to make it in this town unless you’re willing to do some awful things… And I’m willing.” Unfortunately a line like that only works if you’ve got original 80s recipe James Spader ready to teach that guy what kind of “awful” things someone nasty can REALLY make you do.
Next in line was John Krasinski’s BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN. Now, I will qualify my thoughts on the film by saying I haven’t read David Foster Wallace’s book. Wait – a short played before it called THE NATURE BETWEEN US, directed by William Campbell. And ironically, it was more 80s-style torment. This time in the form of candy colored bad 80s sit-com and music video stylings wrapped around nonsense. In fact, that’s what it should have been titled: THE NONSENSE BETWEEN US.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming: “Victory for the forces of democratic freedom!” One of the interview subjects describes his affliction, which causes him to shout that phrase at a particularly exhilarating and vulnerable moment. It’s funny, but to what end? Men suck, they’re manipulative dicks, insensitive, don’t get it, not worthy of a woman’s love. I’m guessing you either might have already heard about this or you’re one of the guys helping to perpetrate this stereotype. So you probably don’t have to see the film. Okay, that’s too harsh. But the main problem I had with the film is that there’s just nothing or no one to latch onto, to give a rat’s ass about. I mean we know what the male nature is, so seeing many variations on this theme is neither educational nor enlightening. And Julianne Nicholson, as solid as she always is, can’t withstand the tide by herself to keep us onboard. There is plenty of clever – Krasinski is smart and he’s clearly got ideas – he just tackled something that didn’t need to get on the playing field in the first place.
So then I changed it up with some Japanese sci-fi titled, THE CLONE RETURNS HOME. Executive produced by Wim Wenders and directed by Kanji Nakajima, the film follows a young astronaut’s participation in an experimental cloning program. After he dies, he is cloned complete with his old memory. The problem is that memory includes some feelings he suppressed about a tragedy he experienced during childhood with his twin brother. It’s clinical and glacially paced, but fascinating all the same. The film has a whole lot of SOLARIS going on and it veers much closer to existential art film than it does sci-fi to be honest (complete with an image of the clone carrying the burden of his own space suit clad body crucifix-style to his childhood home). But at this point in the day, I was happy to take what I could get.
The final film brought it all back to a happy Sundance place. Jonas Pate’s SHRINK starring Kevin Spacey, Keke Palmer, Mark Webber, Dallas Roberts, Robin Williams and Saffron Burrows should have irritated the hell out of me. Set in L.A. and revolving around various people in Spacey’s psychiatrist universe, it has no qualms about pulling every cliché about L.A., the film industry and those around it out of its multiple interweaved storyline top hat. Spacey and Palmer are both trying to run away from suicides (his wife’s/her mom’s). He, by trying to not take a single breath not aided by a joint and her by ditching school for a local movie house as often as she can. And everyone else has issues too. But the film survives and wins audience hearts and minds because the characters have them – hearts AND minds, that is. They are genuinely endearing in a not-easy-to-get-there way. And that will trump movieland cliché every time, as far as I’m concerned. Are you listening Bret Easton Ellis…?
Back at Sundance – Day #1
After two years away due to the initial AFI DALLAS launch and scheduling issues the second year, I’m back in Park City to get a head start working on the films we’ll be picking up, get some face time with the journalists in town and possibly help Artistic Director Michael Cain and the programming dynamic Dallas duo of James Faust and Sarah Harris maybe find a couple more must haves that they somehow didn’t catch in their exhaustive non-stop movie search. Oh – and I’m also doing a Sundance story for Envy Magazine as they continue to stretch the boundaries of the “local social/ entertainment” magazine.
First impression – the reminder that you can’t park a car in Park City. Unless of course, you have a roll of bills like a mobster at hand to pay or you won the parking lottery. Point is – they don’t want you to park here. They don’t want you to have even owned a car. Ever. It’s understandable why. I mean, of course, I get it. And the public transpo is great. But there’s kind of an angry aggressiveness about the parking moratorium. And the tow trucks? Like sharks. Trolling for cars left behind by the weak-willed and desperate to make a movie or a meeting.
Scary. If you happen to have a car here – like me.
Anyway, if you’ve been here before then you know the drill and if you haven’t, you’ll learn fast. And ultimately, you won’t care because it’s all about the movies. Because if you’re here, even if it is for work, you likely view movies a little differently than the general public. At my first press screening, I asked a guy what he had seen that he had loved. He said, “I haven’t fallen in love yet, but I would sleep with PAPER HEART.” He also said he would have a one-night stand with LYMELIFE. Which leads me to think he would also buy PAPER HEART dinner a couple times as well.
The first film I saw was BIG FAN. The film follows a sad sack parking lot attendant who loves his New York Football Giants like no other. Until a disastrous incident occurs during a flukish meeting with his all-time favorite player, that is. I’m interviewing Patton Oswalt, the star of the film, tomorrow – AND I had insider info that it was gonna be a good one so I was looking forward to it. And it didn’t disappoint. It’s funny in a “real” way and it’s not afraid to go to some serious places you wouldn’t expect of Mr. Oswalt. But not earnest Oscar grab kind of going to those places. Probably because that sort of play would never enter Patton’s head in the first place. Written and directed by Robert Siegel with the same unflinching look at both the humor and you have to say it – pathos, that he brought to the script for THE WRESTLER. There’s also a nice understated turn by Kevin Corrigan as Oswalt’s character’s partner in fandom. The film draws conclusions that may not be the best on paper for all concerned, but (and I’m going to hate myself as I write this) that’s why they play the game. Finally, BIG FAN has, hands down, one of the best payoffs I have seen in a very long time.
Nice start, huh?
Film number two was THE COVE. Again, I was looking forward to this one from the moment I heard about it. The film is an expose’ on the dolphin industry and in particular the wholesale slaughter of dolphins that takes place in a little cove in Taiji, Japan. And it is as riveting as it gets as we follow a group of activists who hatch and execute an elaborate OCEAN’S 11-type operation for the express purpose of filming and documenting what goes on there. Led by Ric O’Barry who has been on a crusade for some 35 years to thwart an industry he feels greatly responsible for inspiring due to his work as a dolphin trainer on the original FLIPPER TV series, the group and the film work toward unmasking the many wrongs – animal cruelty to the nth degree and the willful spread of mercury poisoning to the entire country (with an emphasis on their children) among them. THE COVE invites immediate comparisons to SHARKWATER, which we had at AFI DALLAS in 2007 and which won the prize for Best HD Feature. And that comparison weighs very heavily in THE COVE’s favor. While SHARKWATER’s campaign against the illegal shark finning industry was easily just as genuine, it was burdened by the weighty ego of its filmmaker and “star.” O’Barry and the principals involved with THE COVE never waver on where their focus and concern lies –with a species with an intelligence and self awareness that could possibly exceed our own. And our kind’s typical bent to destroy that. Don’t miss this film when you get the chance to see it.
Number three? Chris Rock’s documentary, GOOD HAIR. This was an eye opener. Black women’s (and some men’s) love affair with relaxer (or “creamy crack”) and weaves is equal parts hilarious and frightening. Not surprising, mind you. Not when, as Nia Long describes the desire for “white hair” – there has long been a steady drumbeat for generations of black women to seek “the lighter, the brighter, the better,” as she says. To see what the principal chemical component in relaxer can do to a coke can in 3 or 4 hours is bad enough. Realizing that same stuff is being put on the heads of children after hearing the horror stories of the scalp burn from people like Ice T (yes, that Ice T), places it in a whole other arena. And then there are the secret societies of women with weaves, descriptions of how they pay thousands upon thousands of dollars for those weaves and how women in India literally have their hair “stolen” – cut off while they’re asleep or watching a movie in a theater – to fulfill that demand/obsession. It’s a lot to take in. And while I laughed throughout, I actually have gained much empathy for the men who must negotiate their way around their woman’s weave. Because, Rock makes it very clear – she may be worth it, but that’s some heavy lifting.
Finally, it was off to Slamdance to see a film we are romancing to bring to AFI DALLAS – ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD. First off, there was a gift bag on the seat for everyone attending the premiere with a poster, fangs, t-shirt, etc. Thoughtful. Vampire thoughtful. And the film was proceeded by a short film – bonus, right? Entitled HORSEFINGERS 3: STARFUCKER, it was everything you would hope from a twisted bizzaro little short about romance and tough it is already to date without also having to work around having two giant hooves (or “horsefingers”) on your hands.
While describing the film, the director (Kirsten Kearse) had the second best quote of the day, “People are boring. But put them in animal outfit…”
As far as the feature presentation is concerned, what can you say about a film that follows a theater director’s struggles as he finds himself caught in the middle of a two thousand year out conspiracy involving Shakespeare, the Holy Grail and vampires? It was funny, it was silly, it was inventive. That’s what you can say. You can also say it starred Jake Hoffman (displaying some natural dead pan talent), Devon Aoki, Ralph Macchio and Jeremy Sisto among an eclectic cast. And music by Sean Lennon. Mind you, I saw the film during its world premiere which might have doubled as a cast and crew screening so it was a mad house and a very happy, giddy mad house. But Jordan Galland’s dead little valentine would have held its own regardless and brought the funny. This will be a fun movie to have in Dallas and a great cast to have on a red carpet.
I am constantly writing or editing or managing press releases. And the sad thing about writing press releases is that the reason you are doing this – informing “the press” of something you feel is newsworthy is the thing you spend the least amount of time on.
Hours and days and emails and phone calls and an insane amount of angst is spent on things that either are secondary to the actual news (and I say that because I’m kind) or very minor details or entirely pointless because they will never show up anywhere than in the wholesale reprinting of the entire press release. And that usually only happens on the website for the people that put out the press release in the first place.
So it’s like putting on a play in your own living room for yourself. Then you oftentimes have to figure out a way to include a quote from someone just so they can “come to the press release party” and then justify it by weaving in some points you had hoped to make in the first place. So you write something and send it to them (because rarely can they write their own quote), basically saying, “This is what you (pretend) said.” And then they change it to something that really has little constructive use whatsoever. But they think it sounds great. Or they have a PR person that needs to balance their scouting of Overstock.com that day so they change it. So you offer up another way for them to say what you need them to say in a way that sounds like they would have said it out loud without you broadcasting it directly into their ear ala Holly Hunter to William Hurt. I was struck by this recently as I worked with that rare person that took great pains to craft their quote for the reading enjoyment of someone other than their immediate family.
But the best part is the boilerplates. A boilerplate is a tasty little paragraph or paragraphs at the end of the press release that gives you the basic “need-to-know” info about the organizations involved and the companies sponsoring the organization or event.
If I had a boilerplate, it would look like this:
About John Wildman
John Wildman is a publicist, writer, filmmaker and unlimited arc softball pitcher who writes blogs giving insight into his experiences doing entertainment PR and whatever the hell else strikes him at the moment. Wildman is dedicated to publicizing the work of the filmmakers at his film festivals, finding the funny and the scary in the unlikeliest of places and consuming enough chocolate chip cookies to give a person toxic sugar shock. Wildman’s blog is read by more than 7 people worldwide. For additional self serving background info, please visit his Facebook or My Space sites and just make sure you don’t confuse him with the Canadian actor with the same name.
What’s wonderful about these (and when I say wonderful, I mean something so far from wonderful that if you sent a postcard from wonderful to that place where it actually is – it would take weeks to get there)… Anyway, what’s wonderful about boilerplates is that the organizations, companies, sponsors, etc. twist and turn and stress over every single word in them – yet no one ever reads them. No one. No one cares. Except maybe the company’s grandma – who will read every word. Because, you know – she’s so proud.
Because it’s not part of the news.
But God forbid an older version goes out with your press release because it can be very upsetting. To someone. Somewhere. I mean it can be damaging to a company. Seriously. Damaged. Beyond repair. It’s usually irreparable. The uhmm…damage. In fact, it is entirely possible that the financial crisis was set off by an errant boilerplate from some rogue press release. And it could easily have been a line in Iraq’s boilerplate that said the country housed WMDs that started the war we’re in. Could’ve happened.
I would check Iraq’s website.
So the best present I received during Christmas was – no lie – four boxes of Entenmann’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. Was that the “marquee” gift? No, it was not. But it was the most amazing, greatest, coolest thing ever.
Because they don’t exist anymore. Okay, obviously they do. But for the longest time I have not been able to find them. For years they were my most treasured writing fuel. The best version of the perfect treat: the chocolate chip cookie. And then they went away. No warning. No explanation. Just gone. It wasn’t like I was the only one who ever bought them. But someone within the deep, dark, diabolical bowels of Entenmann’s Inc. decided to just put the recipe away. For good. Apparently we had had enough as far as they were concerned. In fact, my wife was convinced I took the job to do the PR for the Lone Star Film Festival because the only address I found online for a factory that supposedly still made them was located in Fort Worth, Texas, where the festival made it’s home. But, alas – I could never find it.
So, yes – my wife might as well have hogtied and boxed up a freakin’ unicorn for the magical shit she pulled out of Santa’s hat. And I got enough tasty cookies to send me on a Trainspotting-type binge with my “drug” of choice. Big deal, right? Well – actually, it was. And here’s why: The Entenmann’s was the third and most personally hurtful in a series of tantalizing, tempting and taunting things of goodness that tormented me with their elusiveness throughout my life.
The first: Blueberry Hostess Pies. Oh, sure – apple is fine, and cherry is good too. But blueberry? Pure deliciousness in a perfect little guilty pleasure package of wonderfulness. I mean, the frosted sugar, flaky crust gave way to an eerily perfect balance of blueberry sweetness and tang. Every time. That was something to hang onto for a kid growing up in Indiana and Florida. I still will do a hope springs eternal glance through every gas station, quick stop, and grocery store I encounter on my travels. But they’re gone. I’m sure I’ll enjoy a Dodo, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich before I have another Blueberry Hostess Pie.
Badfinger’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1. For years, when I was a kid and just starting to get into music, I searched for Badfinger’s Greatest Hits Vol 1. Here’s what happened: I had heard “No Matter What”, “Baby Blue” and the Lennon and McCartney gift to their Apple Records mates, “Come and Get It”. and wanted me some Badfinger…uhmmm….bad. But you could only find Badfinger’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2. Volume 2?! It made no sense! How could you order tons of Vol. 2 and not a single Vol. 1? What classic British rock hating yahoo was in charge of ordering there? It wasn’t as if they were going to siphon any sales from the Skynyrd or Molly Hatchet kids. There wasn’t a single song I had heard of on that stupid thing – certainly nothing that was even close to being written by a Beatle. No matter how many trips I made to the Camelot Records store at the Sarasota Square Mall. And that WAS a trip to get to that damn thing. It just wasn’t happening. It actually wasn’t until I graduated and came to L.A. that the guitarist for Sheryl Crow’s first tour who lived downstairs in my apartment complex made a tape of each of his Badfinger LPs for me – finally ending years of hateful musical torment.
And I’ve been a loyal fan of hers ever since.
But not as great a fan as I am for that wizard I married who conjured up the Entenmann’s triple C’s.
I had to postpone what I had intended as my next subject because I just happened to witness two commercials back-to-back which featured blatant, unadulterated marketing to dickheads.
Now, dedicated asshole marketing is nothing new. I think my most recent favorite (until this two-for) was the “Be a Prick, Drive a Hummer” campaign. My favorite commercial in the series was the one where a woman complains to a Mother Hummer after the woman’s brat cuts in front of the first lady’s kid to ride a jungle gym slide. Rather than apologize, or do anything about her hell spawn, the Mother Hummer tells her to buzz off. So, what happens? Despite the fact that not a jury in the land would convict her if she went all Jason Statham on this harpy’s ass, our nice mom gets her own Hummer (and presumably signs up for an extension course in puppy kicking technique) because in Hummer land, better to join ‘em, suck up as much gas as you can and take up as many parking spots as you can rather than point out their dickishness. “Oh, look – there’s that pretty signature shot of the earth from space. I think you can see Hummers tearing through the rainforests from here.”
But back to tonight: So it began with an ad for some absurdly large pick up truck, the kind that if you don’t live in the country (and I mean real country – not some gated community with show ponies crap), legitimately haul A LOT of stuff ALL OF THE TIME, or have to ferry small families fleeing avalanche, floods or zombies – you have no business owning. EVER. So the commercial begins with some nerdy dad-type with a gut climbing down from the back of his truck using a ladder attachment built into it. That’s when Howie Long steps into frame and ridicules the guy for having to use this ladder thingie. Because, clearly this guy with his normal sized truck and his ladder is a pussy. Long might as well be sporting a letterman jacket along with that bed-of-nails brushcut he’s had since the Raiders last had a winning season. His monolithic truck looking like it just took the fifth at a steroids hearing. Apparently gas is cheap once again…
And then, batting cleanup (and I use that word for a reason) is a guy enjoying a typically sloppy Carl’s Jr. meal. He’s at a garage while his truck is being worked on. The voiceover dude fills us in that our guy (apparently more charming when he isn’t playing burger Tetris with his mouth) just got caught by one of the three women who believed she was his only girlfriend. On cue the camera shows us some guys cleaning the “cheater” graffiti that Carrie Underwood scrawled on his car. And they’re nodding to each other and smiling to themselves because, hey- you know, he’s a pimp, right? I mean, not only does he need a bib stitched onto his shirt but he puts the women in their place – which after he’s done with them is apparently next to his ride with a can of spray paint. Hey, after all – we’re selling burgers to dickheads not smart guys. Maybe if they don’t finish in time, he can get a ride from the other Carl’s Jr. loser that tells his girlfriend he’s taking her out for a steak dinner. And then… (hold on a second, because this is f-ing hilarious) she gets all dressed up just to find out they’re going to the corner Carl’s Jr.
I don’t know, can you high five a TV set? Cause that dude is awesome!
Now, if I can just find some puppies to kick…
The other night, I was watching Elvis Costello’s Spectacle show and he was interviewing Tony Bennett. At a certain point, Bennett said that when he began singing with big bands like Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Duke Ellington, etc. that the public decided for themselves if they liked a band or a singer versus having a corporation “convince” them that they liked it. In his opinion, the audiences were more savvy, paying attention more to what they were hearing and experiencing and then making the call for themselves as to who they wanted to see and hear more of.
And fifty years later I analyze and re-analyze my part or role in that process when it comes to my stuff. I am, after all, the publicist. So, I am supposed to try and sell the artist, the film, the event, the organization, whatever – to the public, to people, to “you”. But here’s the thing that I feel justifies my efforts (because the thought that I would be considered a flack grosses the hell out of me): I truly and genuinely believe in the need and the worth of each of these film festivals and the filmmakers and their films. And I have very high annual goals and my own “vision” for The Vision Awards show that I produce and a sincere belief in the good and greater potential for positive change that Retinitis Pigmentosa International (the organization it supports) can achieve. I even put some time in on behalf of the comedian Doug Stanhope for awhile last summer because he is smart, and relentless about delivering the unvarnished funny (and I so loathe so much of what is accepted as stand up comedy by people who have been fed a never ending calvacade of witless and canned Comedy Central crap).
So I’m not just selling for selling’s sake. I want everyone to be aware of what’s going on, to hear our side of it, to listen for a moment about why I think it’s worth the time or their attention. No single film is for everyone but there is a film for everyone. After 20 years in this town and 15 years in entertainment PR and television/film production, I’m as cynical as the next person, but there is stuff out there that should be celebrated or at the least be attended. Because, if it goes away it just may NOT come back. That goes for each of the film festivals, it goes for the filmmakers, it even goes to the specific programs within the American Film Institute that benefit film artists and future film artists and film lovers to come.
So, while it wouldn’t seem that I should be, considering my job – I’m with Tony Bennett on this one. Because, while I know I have a tough time just sitting through the trailers for movies like THE SPIRIT, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and BEDTIME STORIES, I know that anyone who experiences a typical film fest screening with a smart Q&A afterwards by the filmmaker will always come back for more.